If you’ve have been to a doctor or hospital for a medical condition of some kind, you may have been referred to a specialist. This is a person whose training has been concentrated in one or more particular fields. They are in effect a doctor who specializes in a specific area, rather than a doctor who has no particular focus and deals with everything. It is the same in the veterinarian sphere. A pet specialist is simply a board-certified veterinary specialist who knows about general pet health issues, but has placed an emphasis on a specific area of health.

A pet specialist’s area of expertise could be in emergency (ER) and critical care, diagnostic, cardiology, oncology, dermatology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, or neurology to name a few. When your pet becomes ill, or has a medical problem you don’t fully understand, you should take the animal to a general veterinarian so they can assess the problem, and a decision can be made to have your pet examined by a specialist. A pet specialist does not replace your general vet. They will work closely with each other and your pet will get the best health care possible.  

Pet specialists’ training exceeds the training of a general vet. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree, the pet specialist needs to get a degree from an accredited veterinary school.  They then have to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam, and get a license from the state governing board where the pet specialist practices. This four-year process is good enough if all that’s required is the training to become a general vet, but the pet specialist has to go the further mile.

In order to become a board-certified veterinary specialist, it is necessary to complete one internship, and sometimes two. It is also necessary to complete a residency after attending vet school. A residency program can take three or even four years to complete, depending on the specialty chosen. Residency programs are not for the faint of heart. They involve intense training with long hours and usually a constant lack of sleep.

You might think that after some five to seven extra years of intense training, that would be it, but it isn’t. Each would-be pet specialist still has to pass their own specialty board-certifying exams. If they are successful in this, then, and only then, can they call themselves real, fully trained, veterinarian pet specialists.

Your general veterinarian trains long and hard to gain the expertise he or she has and is capable of looking after your pet’s general health. But there are situations that a specialist knowledge is needed as they have a deeper understanding of particular health issues. Think of the pet specialist as the secret weapon that your general vet can call on when required to fully ensure that only the finest and best health care is given to your pet. It’s an extra layer of protection that gives you complete peace of mind.

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